A. God’s love for a rebellious Israel.
1. (1-2a) God declares His love for Israel through the prophet Malachi.
The burden of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi.
“I have loved you,” says the LORD.
a. To Israel by Malachi: Malachi spoke to the exiles some 100 years after their initial return, after the days of Zechariah and Haggai. Malachi served God either at the time of Nehemiah or immediately afterwards.
i. We know this because in Malachi’s day the temple was already rebuilt (Malachi 1:13, 3:10).
ii. We know this because the Jews were under a civil ruler (the governor of Malachi 1:8), and Nehemiah was the last civil ruler over Jerusalem.
iii. We know this because the sins that Malachi condemned were the same sins Nehemiah spoke against.
· The priesthood was defiled (Nehemiah 13:29, Malachi 1:6-2:9).
· Marriage was corrupt in Israel (Nehemiah 13:23-25, Malachi 2:14-15).
· The tithe that should have gone to the Levites was kept from them (Nehemiah 13:10-11, Malachi 3:8-12).
iv. By now, the temple was rebuilt, sacrifice and feasts had resumed but the dramatic promises of the prophets like Haggai and Zechariah were still far from fulfillment. This left the nation discouraged and disappointed in what they thought were unfulfilled promises. This led them towards a low regard for God. Israel needed an assurance of God’s love and a challenge to their disobedience.
b. “I have loved you,” says the LORD: Malachi would bring a lot of specific correction for Israel, but before God corrected them, He assured them of His love. This set a foundation for their obedience because if they loved Him, they would keep His commandments (as in John 14:15).
i. Morgan translates this as “‘I have loved you, I do love you, I will love you,’ says the Lord.”
2. (2b-5) Their first question: How has God demonstrated His love to Israel?
“Yet you say, ‘In what way have You loved us?’
Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?”
Says the LORD.
“Yet Jacob I have loved;
But Esau I have hated,
And laid waste his mountains and his heritage
For the jackals of the wilderness.”
Even though Edom has said,
“We have been impoverished,
But we will return and build the desolate places,”
Thus says the LORD of hosts:
“They may build, but I will throw down;
They shall be called the Territory of Wickedness,
And the people against whom the LORD will have indignation forever.
Your eyes shall see,
And you shall say,
‘The LORD is magnified beyond the border of Israel.’
a. In what way have You loved us? This is the kind of question rarely spoken, but often kept in the heart. It asks, “God, if you really love me, then why are things the way they are?”
i. The prophecy of Malachi is built around seven questions the people asked God. These questions revealed their doubting, discouraged, sinful hearts.
· In what way have You loved us? (Malachi 1:2)
· In what way have we despised Your name? (Malachi 1:6)
· In what way have we defiled You? (Malachi 1:7)
· In what way have we wearied Him? (Malachi 2:17)
· In what way shall we return? (Malachi 3:7)
· In what way have we robbed You? (Malachi 3:8)
· In what way have we spoken against You? (Malachi 3:13)
b. Yet Jacob I have loved; but Esau I have hated: God asked Israel to find assurance in His election, His choice of them. He wanted them to understand that they were chosen and remained His chosen and favored people. When the people of Israel compared themselves to their neighbors the Edomites (the descendants of Esau), they saw that God chose to preserve Israel and He punished the Edomites.
i. Obadiah promised judgment against the land and people of Edom. Apparently, by Malachi’s time it had happened, and God’s choice of Israel assured His love for them.
ii. Understanding our election can bring a wonderful assurance of God’s love. It means that God chose us before we existed and that the reasons for His choosing and loving us are based on Him, not on us. Knowing God chose us gives us a sense of boldness and confidence in our walk with Him.
iii. Understanding our election gives assurance of love but the greatest demonstration of His love is found in the finished work of Jesus: But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).
c. Jacob I have loved; but Esau I have hated: The choice of Jacob over Esau is a strong and classic example of God’s election. God chose Jacob instead of Esau to carry the blessing promised to their grandfather Abraham. In some ways, Esau was a more likely candidate because though Jacob and Esau were twins, Esau was born first. Nevertheless, Jacob was chosen, and chosen before he and Esau were ever born (Genesis 25:23).
d. Jacob I have loved; but Esau I have hated: God did not hate Esau in the sense of cursing him or striking out against him. Indeed, Esau was a blessed man (Genesis 33:9, 36:1-43). Yet when God chose Jacob, He left Esau unchosen in regard to receiving the blessing given to Abraham.
i. In his commentary on Romans (where Paul quoted this Malachi passage in Romans 9:13), Leon Morris cited examples where hate clearly seems to mean something like “loved less” (Genesis 29:31-33, Deuteronomy 21:15, Matthew 6:24, Luke 14:26, John 12:25). Yet he agreed with Calvin’s idea that the real thought here is much more like “accepted” and “rejected” rather than our understanding of the terms “loved” and “hated.”
ii. We should remember the reason why election is brought up here: not to exclude, but to comfort and reassure. “A woman once said to Mr. Spurgeon, ‘I cannot understand why God should say that He hated Esau.’ ‘That,’ Spurgeon replied, ‘is not my difficulty, madam. My trouble is to understand how God could love Jacob.’” (Newell)
iii. Malachi isn’t teaching double predestination. “Malachi is not speaking of the predestination of the one brother and reprobation of the other; he is contrasting the histories of the two peoples represented by them.… Both nations sinned; both are punished; but Israel by God’s free mercy was forgiven and restored, while Edom was left in the misery which it had brought upon itself by its own iniquity.” (Deane)
e. Jacob I have loved; but Esau I have hated: Our greatest error in considering God’s election is to think that God chooses for arbitrary reasons, as if He made choices in a random way. We may not understand God’s reasons for choosing and they may be reasons He alone knows, but God’s choices are not crazy, without reason, or capricious. They make perfect sense knowing everything God knows and seeing everything God sees.
i. Some consider God’s election as conditional, in the sense that it is based upon foreknowledge. Others consider God’s election unconditional, based on God’s sovereign choice. Here, it seems that the election of Jacob was unconditional. Though God knew what sort of men Jacob and Esau would become His election was not based on that.
ii. One might say, “I don’t believe in Jesus; therefore, I must not be chosen.” That is fine, but then that person must not blame God at all for not choosing them if they refuse to choose Him.
f. And laid waste his mountains and his heritage for the jackals of the wilderness: The idea of God’s preference for Jacob over Esau also extended to their descendants. The nation descended from Jacob (Israel) was conquered by the Babylonian Empire, and so was the nation descended from Esau (Edom). Yet God restored Israel from exile and at this point Edom had not been restored. God chose to show greater favor to Jacob and his descendants.
g. They may build, but I will throw down: God promised that Edom would be permanently ruined and that their status as “unchosen” would not change. As a reflection of God’s steadfast commitment to Israel, this was a comfort to God’s people – once He chose Israel they stayed chosen, and God would not forsake them and choose another.
B. Sacrifices dishonoring to God are exposed and condemned.
1. (6-8) Their second and third questions: How have we despised the LORD? How have we defiled His ministry?
“A son honors his father,
And a servant his master.
If then I am the Father,
Where is My honor?
And if I am a Master,
Where is My reverence?
Says the LORD of hosts
To you priests who despise My name.
Yet you say, ‘In what way have we despised Your name?’
You offer defiled food on My altar.
‘In what way have we defiled You?’
‘The table of the LORD is contemptible.’
And when you offer the blind as a sacrifice,
Is it not evil?
And when you offer the lame and sick,
Is it not evil?
Offer it then to your governor!
Would he be pleased with you?
Would he accept you favorably?”
Says the LORD of hosts.
a. Where is My honor? Through Malachi, God asked the priests of Israel why they showed so little respect and honor to Him in their sacrifices. They called God Father, they called Him Master, yet they did not honor Him and show Him reverence with their sacrifices.
b. To you priests who despise My name: The priests of Israel brought the sacrifices and it was their duty to uphold the honor and dignity of the sacrificial system. Yet they offered defiled food to God and offered animals that were blind, lame, or sick.
i. Passages such as Leviticus 22:20-23 and Deuteronomy 15:21 clearly prohibited offering blemished sacrifices.
c. In what way have we despised Your name? The priests weren’t even aware that they despised God with their actions. This meant that it came by degrees; they probably did not know the extent of their offense and simply carried on as before. They slowly slid into despising God’s name.
i. In ministry, it is easier than many people think to blindly continue serving God and His people while in sin, and to do it in mechanical indifference. God wanted Israel’s priests to think about their service to Him, and He wants today’s ministers to think just as carefully.
ii. Richard Baxter, a great Puritan writer, carefully considered the walk of the minister: “But consider plainly that the great and lamentable sin of ministers of the Gospel is that they are not fully devoted to God. They do not give themselves up wholly to the blessed work they have undertaken to do. Is it not true that flesh-pleasing and self-seeking interests – distinct from that of Christ – make us neglect our duty and lead us to walk unfaithfully in the great trust that God has given us? Is it not true that we serve God too cheaply? Do we not do so in the most applauded way? Do we not withdraw ourselves from that which would cost us the most suffering? Does not all this show that we seek earthly rather than heavenly things? And that we mind the things which are below? While we preach for the realities which are above, do we not idolize the world? So what remains to be said, brethren, but to cry that we are all guilty of too many of the aforementioned sins. Do we not need to humble ourselves in lamentation for our miscarriages before the Lord?” (Baxter)
d. You offer defiled food on My altar: The altar was the place of sacrifice, and it belonged to God. Yet the priests of Malachi’s day disgraced God and His altar by offering defiled food to Him. Spiritually speaking, ministers today must never present defiled food to God in their ministry.
i. If the pastor’s sermon is filled with funny jokes, clever anecdotes, and emotional stories but it lacks God’s word – this is like defiled food. To throw in a few Bible verses here and there to illustrate or back up the preacher’s stories, but to really make the sermon all about the preacher is to offer defiled food. If the sermon isn’t about Jesus, if it isn’t about God’s word, then the preacher is setting defiled food on God’s altar.
ii. If the pastor’s sermon is sloppy, if he has not done the work in the study when there was the opportunity to do that work, that is like offering defiled food before God. When the preacher will not labor in prayer and meditation over God’s word and seek His message for the people, the sermon can be an offering of defiled food. If the preacher does not hold fast the pattern of sound words and rightly divide the word of truth, it is all like setting defiled food on God’s altar.
iii. If the preacher’s sermon is cold, refusing to show any concern or passion in the pulpit; if his passion is reserved for other things in life, then the sermon can be like defiled food. If the preacher can pontificate or argue with the best of them, but his messages have no deep passion for God or his people, the message may be like defiled food. If the preacher does his job and collects his paycheck but with a heart for Jesus that is cold, that preacher sets defiled food on God’s altar.
e. The table of the LORD is contemptible: The priests weren’t grateful for their ministry, for their work before the LORD. They complained about what the people gave and the trouble of being a priest.
f. Offer it then to your governor: The priests and the people tried to give to God things that the government wouldn’t accept as taxes. King David had a completely different heart, saying nor will I offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God with that which costs me nothing (2 Samuel 24:24).
2. (9-11) God will be glorified but will it be by His present people?
“But now entreat God’s favor,
That He may be gracious to us.
While this is being done by your hands,
Will He accept you favorably?”
Says the LORD of hosts.
Who is there even among you who would shut the doors,
So that you would not kindle fire on My altar in vain?
I have no pleasure in you,”
Says the LORD of hosts,
“Nor will I accept an offering from your hands.
For from the rising of the sun, even to its going down,
My name shall be great among the Gentiles;
In every place incense shall be offered to My name,
And a pure offering;
For My name shall be great among the nations,”
Says the LORD of hosts.
a. Entreat God’s favor, that He may be gracious to us: This phrase is rich with irony. Moffatt’s paraphrase gives the sense: Try to pacify God and win his favour? How can he favour any one of you, says the Lord of hosts, when you offer him such sacrifices?
b. Who would shut the doors: God thought it was better to shut the doors rather than to continue worthless worship. Not everything that is offered to God as worship is accepted by God as worship. Sometimes God would prefer that it would just stop and He simply says, “I have no pleasure in you.”
i. We are often concerned with church growth, evangelism, and planting churches. Yet in some cases, the best thing we could do for the cause of the LORD is to shut the doors of many churches.
ii. “I am more afraid of profanity of the sanctuary than I am of the profanity of the street.” (Morgan)
c. My name shall be great among the Gentiles: Yet, God will not go without worship. If the priests and people among Israel would not worship Him in Spirit and in truth, God would find worshippers among the Gentiles.
d. In every place incense shall be offered to My name: This is a glorious promise that the true worship of God will extend all over the earth. Jesus’ command to spread the gospel and to go to every nation is part of God’s way of fulfilling this promise.
i. “It is, therefore, inconceivable that a prophet should suggest that the nations of his own day were worshipping the Lord under another name (Isaiah 42:8). Rather is he proclaiming that the nations will come to know the God revealed in the Scriptures.” (Baldwin)
3. (12-14) God promises to curse shallow, selfish, false worship.
“But you profane it,
In that you say,
‘The table of the LORD is defiled;
And its fruit, its food, is contemptible.’
You also say,
‘Oh, what a weariness!’
And you sneer at it,”
Says the LORD of hosts.
“And you bring the stolen, the lame, and the sick;
Thus you bring an offering!
Should I accept this from your hand?”
Says the LORD.
“But cursed be the deceiver
Who has in his flock a male,
And takes a vow, but sacrifices to the LORD what is blemished–
For I am a great King,”
Says the LORD of hosts,
“And My name is to be feared among the nations.”
a. Contemptible.… Oh, what a weariness: Their selfish, insincere worship was also unsatisfying to the worshippers. Because they did not meet God in their worship it was as hollow for them as it was for God. True worship is never contemptible or a weariness.
b. Cursed be the deceiver: In bringing God less than their best, they were deceivers, like Ananias and Sapphira who pretended to surrender everything to God but did not (Acts 5).
c. I am a great King: They simply did not treat God like a great King, one to be feared and honored. When we offer shallow, insincere worship to God we don’t honor Him as a great King.